Cynthia Muchanyara Mukamuri (CM), the general-secretary of Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), a private voluntary organisation which deals with women empowerment, says patriarchy is a major obstacle in achieving gender equality. She speaks to NewsDay senior reporter Miriam Mangwaya (ND) about fighting gender-based-violence (GBV).
ND: What is the role of the Young Women Christian Association in promoting the rights of women?
CM: YWCA is a feminist movement founded during the First World War by Sweden, Great Britain, Norway and USA with the aim of empowering women, particularly young wives whose husbands had gone to war. The idea was to help them to cope spiritually, socially and economically in the absence of their husbands, the breadwinners. It later on spread to many countries and in Zimbabwe, it was established in 1957. YWCA exists to fight social and economic injustices that prevail within our society disadvantaging women and girls in most cases. It seeks to empower women to stand up for their rights and claim their entitlements. It also fights poverty by economically empowering women and girls with life skills including young women who fail to complete formal education.
ND: Why is it important to empower women and girls?
CM: Traditional patriarchal societies believed that women’s roles were bearing children and safe keeping of men’s homes. As a result, women have been continuously dependent on men and have not been able to stand on their own, thus enduring abusive relationships.
Empowering women with skills, therefore, is aimed at killing the dependency syndrome so that they no longer depend on men for their upkeep. Government policies and voluntary work interventions in empowering women are meant to fight GBV and to break the silence as well as barriers that exist in our society against female development.
As this year’s theme on 16 Days of Activism Against GBV entails — women can be promoted into entrepreneurship, helped to get employment or be educated so that they can fend for themselves and stop depending on men or husbands for upkeep.
If they are self-reliant, they can stand on their own and speak for themselves on issues affecting them. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation, the saying goes. However, the major challenge is that key leadership posts which can enhance women’s success are dominated by men.
ND: With your experience in fighting for the promotion of women’s rights and in your own opinion, how far has the government gone in promoting gender equality?
CM: Zimbabwe has done very well in formulating policies that address gender imbalances but still lacks in implementing them. The Constitution has provisions that seek to promote women’s full participation in political, social and economic processes.
The government also created the Women Affairs ministry, which promotes female participation in governance. Zimbabwe is also a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Such efforts show that government recognises and appreciates that gender disparities exist in society.
At tertiary education institutions, cut off points for admission to various degree programmes are lower for women to encourage them to enrol for higher education. The policies have been successful because over the years, trends show that the number of female students enrolling at universities and colleges is rising.
We have also seen women taking up formerly male-perceived professions such as engineering, medicine and finance, as well as other science-related professions. However, despite all the enabling policies by the government, there is continued relegation of women from key political and public office roles.
ND: Why is it important for women to take up key decision-making positions in governance and management?
CM: We believe that if women rise to leadership, they can advance the promotion of their counterparts. Statistics released by Zimbabwe Statistics Agency (ZimStat) show that females constitute a greater part of the Zimbabwean population but on the contrary, there are more men than women occupying critical positions of decision making and leadership in government, public and private institutions.
The women constitutes only 30% Cabinet. We have more female provincial affairs ministers, than men, that is 56%, which is commendable in local governance, however, we have only 13,3% female councillors, which is lamentable because councillors are at the lowest level of governance hierarchy but are key in formulating policies as they are closer to the grassroots.
Male-dominated governance tends to make decisions that tilt towards male preferences. Where men are dominating, women’s issues tend to get less audience and appropriate attention because men may not appreciate the challenges that women face.
ND: You have indicated that key leadership posts are occupied by men and women have less influential posts in government and other institutions. What are some of the challenges faced by women in male-headed working environments?
CM: Male-headed work environments have issues like sexual harassment, unfair treatment and the most discouraging one is perceptions of incompetence. Generally, on professions perceived to be masculine, men doubt the competence of women.
There are some issues which women cannot directly and openly converse with their male superiors or colleagues at work. It is not easy, for instance, for a woman to tell her boss every month that she won’t be able to report for duty because she has menstrual pain.
Even if they are leaders, women still have that obligation to bear children, and take care of families which put them at a disadvantage. A female manager may understand better the challenges in managing both work and family than a male manager.
Absence of female leadership is a stumbling block for most women in climbing the corporate ladder. Men still view women as housewives and fail to appreciate their role from a different perspective at workplaces.
A research we have conducted revealed that in job interviews, for instance, if female candidates are asked if they are married, or have children, they feel that they may lose the job opportunity if they respond in the affirmative. The question has connotations that if hired, they might be unable to carry out the duties perfectly as family roles may interfere with work performance. The fact that women have extra responsibilities outside wok makes it difficult for women to compete at par with their male counterparts.